Where to experience the arts in a landscape
Summer is here and with it the urge to be outdoors, to travel, to bask in the open air. The last thing many of us want to do, once the skies are blue, is to lurk inside a dark and fusty museum.
And yet, even the most summery trip can be made even better by a well-planned chance to feast your eyes on some beautiful art and sculpture. It’s the moment to savour art in the landscape.
In a few special cases, museums and galleries themselves can give you a feeling of moving seamlessly between inside and out. Tate St Ives, in a picturesque Cornish town soaked in artistic tradition, overlooks the wide sands of Porthmeor beach. There is specially designated cloakroom storage for your surfboard and the magnificent coastal walks pass almost by the door. On the days when the English sun actually shines, the effect is positively Mediterranean.
But Tate’s southern outpost is outclassed, I have to admit, by what is possibly the most beautifully sited contemporary museum in Europe — Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Perched above the sea on the giant fjord near Helsingborg, the low glass structure gives an ultra-relaxed indoor-outdoor feeling as the sparkling sea below bounces its reflections upwards on to this magnificent site. And the exhibitions, by the way, are world class.
If you prefer to dispense with gallery walls altogether, summer is the perfect time to visit sculpture outdoors. There are a myriad places to find superb works — from deserts to stately homes, craggy seashores to manicured gardens, city quaysides to holiday islands. It’s worth investigating your surroundings if you are a city dweller: from Sydney to Hong Kong, San Francisco to Osaka, many now have sculpture walks and parks that surprise you even in familiar surroundings.
Venturing further afield, to Scotland for instance, a visit to the Edinburgh Festival or a stop en route to the Highlands can take in Jupiter Artland, where the gardens and grounds of Nicky and Robert Wilson’s Jacobean manor, Bonnington House, are open to anyone avid for highly inventive contemporary art, in wonderful settings of lawns, woodlands, fields, a bothy and more. Look for Charles Jencks’ Cells of Life landform work, or Anya Gallaccio’s astonishing and magical underground grotto with walls made of amethyst.
If your travels take you to America’s east coast, there’s the chance to visit one of the most respected and venerable of outdoor sculpture parks. Storm King, established in 1960 in the Hudson Valley, consists of 500 acres of “outdoor museum” with hills, meadows, woods and wide vistas where visitors can walk for miles among sculptures and site-specific installations created by many of finest sculptors of the 20th and 21st centuries.
If there’s a country that has taken the public open-air museum idea to heart, it is Japan. Perhaps because they are oases of peace within the country’s famously hectic life — as well as chiming with Japan’s ancient traditions of landscape art — there are at least six or seven world-class public art sites.
Just one of several startlingly beautiful outdoor projects is the Benesse Art Site, on an island in the Kagawa archipelago. Specially made works range across the whole idyllic island; there is a museum-hotel where one can stay among the art works and an underground gallery; you’ll find a Yayoi Kusama pumpkin on a jetty and a neon work by Shinro Ohtake in a former dentist’s waiting room.
Why do art and wine seem to chime so well together? Partly, of course, because both appeal to our deepest senses, but also (while we’re on the subject of landscape) because the smooth rolling gridlines of vineyards are almost artworks in themselves — and catnip for curators looking for a dramatic placement for a large-scale work.
The Donum Winery, close to San Pablo Bay (just north of San Francisco) is the latest to announce itself as a sculpture park, and has acquired some monumental blue-chip pieces that look spectacular against the Californian landscape.
But the laurels, for the moment, have to be handed to southern France. There’s the stunning château La Coste— “a vineyard where wine, art & architecture live in harmony”, as they say — with a visitors centre designed by Tadeo Ando. Good shoes are recommended for the two-hour walk around the collection. Then the Domaine du Muy, where four years ago Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand and his son Edouard established a dreamy, 10-kilometre walk through umbrella pines, sandy hills and all the heady fragrances of the maquis that is filled with contemporary sculpture. And finally, the newly opened Carmignac Foundation on the island of Porquerolles . . . well, where else would you want to be?
Where else indeed — unless you are a really tough adventurer at heart. In which case, the desert not far from Menzies, a former goldmining settlement in Western Australia (current population 108) surrounded by ghost towns in the vast, empty landscape could cure even your most extreme case of wanderlust.
Here, some 450 miles east-northeast of Perth, a long, long, hot drive will reward you with the sight of the black steel sculptures of Inside Australia by the British artist Antony Gormley, 51 strange skeletal figures scanned from the bodies of local inhabitants standing proudly aloof across 10 square kilometres of the dead-flat white salt plain of Lake Ballard.
“Always walk with a friend,” the Golden Outback website advises, “as the heat can be extreme.” You have been warned. Even art can be dangerous.
Jan Dalley is the FT’s Arts Editor; email Jan.Dalley@ft.com